Homeric Conversation

  Beck, Deborah. 2005. Homeric Conversation. Hellenic Studies Series 14. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BeckD.Homeric_Conversation.2005.

Chapter 2. One-on-one Conversations (Odysseus and Penelope)

The reunion of Penelope and Odysseus—unlike those we have studied in Chapter 1—contains not just one conversation, but many conversations, each of which uses speech frames and interruptions in the conversation to dramatize at unparalleled length the tension between openness and circumspection that to some degree drives all of Odysseus’ reunions on Ithaca. The conflict has much greater prominence and poignancy here than in any other reunion not only because of the unique level of detail in individual conversations, but because several conversations stretching over the last third of the poem feature this tension. In particular, this series of conversations shows the intertwining feelings of the husband, steeling himself to remain unmoved in the face of his wife’s grief until he has determined that the time has come to do so; and the wife, who over the course of her conversations with the strange beggar masters her grief to successfully test Odysseus without his knowing it, a feat that she alone among the characters in the Odyssey is able to achieve. In other words, this reunion is constructed in the same way as other elaborate conversations we have seen in Chapter 1 (and will see in Chapter 3 and 4), only much more so.

Penelope and Odysseus, Prelude: Book 18

From a pragmatic point of view, Penelope is an extremely effective speaker here. The intention behind Eurymachus’ speech is to legitimize the suitors’ pursuit of her: any Greek who saw her would want to court her because of her beauty, and therefore, the suitors are only doing what anyone might do under the same circumstances. Penelope counters this basic point in two different ways: by discussing her husband at such length, she indirectly reminds the suitors that as a married woman, she is not a suitable bride for any of them; and by speaking about the proper behavior of suitors, she successfully induces the suitors to bring her presents. Not surprisingly, the suitors focus on the second part of her speech, with its implicit suggestion that she might accept the goods and marry one of them, and ignore the first part, even though the first part of the speech is more prominent because of both its length and the order of the different parts of the speech. Antinous, who responds to her speech, promises gifts from the suitors (285-89), but makes no reference to Odysseus.

Between Penelope’s speech and the reply to it, an extended passage in the form of a speech conclusion describes the response elicited by Penelope’s words (281-283).

“ . . . μνηστήρων οὐχ ἥδε δίκη τὸ πάροιθε τέτυκτο,
οἵ τ’ ἀγαθήν τε γυναῖκα καὶ ἀφνειοῖο θύγατρα
μνηστεύειν ἐθέλωσι καὶ ἀλλήλοις ἐρίσωσιν·
αὐτοὶ τοί γ’ ἀπάγουσι βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα,
κούρης δαῖτα φίλοισι, καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρα διδοῦσιν.
ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀλλότριον βίοτον νήποινον ἔδουσιν.”
ὣς φάτο [sc. Penelope], γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
οὕνεκα τῶν μὲν δῶρα παρέλκετο, θέλγε δὲ θυμὸν
μειλιχίοις ἐπέεσσι, νόος δέ οἱ ἄλλα μενοίνα.
τὴν δ’ αὖτ’ Ἀντίνοος προσέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός·
“κούρη Ἰκαρίοιο, περίφρον Πηνελόπεια . . . ”

“ . . . The behavior of these suitors is not as it was in times past
when suitors desired to pay their court to a noble woman
and daughter of a rich man, and rival each other. Such men
themselves bring in their own cattle and fat sheep, to feast {94|95}
the family of the bride, and offer glorious presents.
They do not eat up another’s livelihood, without payment.”
She spoke, and much-enduring great Odysseus was happy
because she beguiled gifts out of them, and enchanted their spirits
with blandishing words, while her own mind had other intentions.
Then Antinoös the son of Eupeithes answered:
“Daughter of Ikarios, circumspect Penelope . . . ”


Contrary to the usual pattern for speech conclusions between one speech and another in an ongoing conversation—which in itself is already unusual—this passage does not describe the reaction of anyone directly involved in the ongoing exchange. Instead, it briefly diverts the attention of the audience to a silent bystander. Moreover, this description falls between one speech and the single-verse reply formula preceding the next one in the conversation, making it unnecessary to the narrative structure of the scene. From the standpoint of narrative structure and clarity, the reply formula for Antinous at verse 284 could directly follow verse 280. Instead, we get a brief glimpse of a silently appreciative Odysseus, in disguise as a beggar, observing from the sidelines his wife’s sparring with the suitors. [

Even before the two meet face to face, they show an unstated—and unknown, in Penelope’s case—fellowship in their ideas about overcoming the suitors. Without directly connecting the two characters, the narrator vividly conveys their basic similarity and suitability for each other in an area that the poem delves into in detail: each is capable of falsely representing him- or herself in the interest of some larger goal. Penelope manipulates the suitors to bring her presents, even though the bulk of her speech suggests that she has no interest in marrying any of them; Odysseus enjoys the spectacle of his wife’s cleverness and does not feel impelled to reveal his identity when confronted face to face with other men trying to marry her. This increases the {95|96} involvement of the audience in their ultimate reunion and the sense of fitness that surrounds it. Furthermore, Odysseus’ silent and acute appreciation for Penelope falls amid the two speeches by his wife’s two most prominent suitors, throwing their lack of understanding of her motives or the situation into relief.

Two Competing Vocatives for Penelope

In contrast, Odysseus uses a full-verse vocative to address his wife that differs from the one that the suitors use: ὦ γύναι αἰδοίη Λαερτιάδεω {96|97} Ὀδυσῆος (O respected wife of Odysseus, son of Laertes), 19.165. Throughout the conversation between him and Penelope in Book 19, Odysseus begins several speeches to her with this full-verse vocative. [8] These words present her in an entirely different light from the language used by the suitors when they address Penelope with a full-verse vocative. The suitors, naturally, are not anxious to dwell on the fact that Penelope is already married. Odysseus, in contrast, calls Penelope a γυνή, or a sexually mature woman; the word may also mean, among other things, the mistress of a house [9] and a wife. [10] Alone, it may be used in the vocative as a form of respectful address. [11] While a κούρη (young maiden) would be unlikely to have a husband, much less an adult son, a γυνή certainly could be married and have a family of her own. The modifying adjective αἰδοίη (respected) calls attention to the honor a married woman should get, and subtly jibes at the suitors for their improper behavior. Finally, this verse refers to Odysseus using both his name and his patronymic. This reminds the listeners, who include the suitors since this conversation takes place in the crowded hall of the palace, of the existence of Penelope’s husband and of that husband’s important place in the social structure of Ithaca. [12] In a larger sense, it pits Odysseus’ notion of the proper role for Penelope against that of the suitors.

One might be tempted to argue that, since all of the instances of calling Penelope “wife of Odysseus” appear quite close together, the pattern in which they appear is due to clustering rather than to their particular appropriateness to this context. [18] However, there is one additional instance of ὦ γύναι αἰδοίη Λαερτιάδεω Ὀδυσῆος (O respected wife of Odysseus, son of Laertes) which makes this explanation unlikely. Theoclymenus the seer, whom Telemachus brings back to Ithaca with him from his travels to Pylos and Sparta, addresses {98|99} Penelope in this way also. [19] Theoclymenus meets Penelope when he accompanies Telemachus to the palace after their travels in Book 17 of the poem. After Telemachus has told his mother about his trip, including what he learned from Menelaus about the whereabouts of Odysseus (17.140-49), Theoclymenus solemnly asserts that what Telemachus has said is true.

ὦ γύναι αἰδοίη Λαερτιάδεω Ὀδυσῆος,
ἦ τοι ὅ γ’ οὐ σάφα οἶδεν, ἐμεῖο δὲ σύνθεο μῦθον·
ἀτρεκέως γάρ τοι μαντεύσομαι οὐδ’ ἐπικεύσω.
ἴστω νῦν Ζεὺς πρῶτα θεῶν ξενίη τε τράπεζα
ἱστίη τ’ Ὀδυσῆος ἀμύμονος, ἣν ἀφικάνω,
ὡς ἦ τοι Ὀδυσεὺς ἤδη ἐν πατρίδι γαίῃ,
ἥμενος ἢ ἕρπων, τάδε πευθόμενος κακὰ ἔργα
ἔστιν, ἀτὰρ μνηστῆρσι κακὸν πάντεσσι φυτεύει·
οἷον ἐγὼν οἰωνὸν ἐϋσσέλμου ἐπὶ νηὸς
ἥμενος ἐφρασάμην καὶ Τηλεμάχῳ ἐγεγώνευν.”

O respected wife of Odysseus, son of Laertes,
attend my word, because he does not understand clearly,
but I shall prophesy truly to you, and hold back nothing.
Zeus be my witness, first of the gods, and the table of friendship,
and the hearth of blameless Odysseus, to which I come as a suppliant,
that Odysseus is already here in the land of his fathers,
sitting still or advancing, learning of all these evil
actions, and devising evils for all of the suitors.
Such was the bird sign I interpreted, and I told it
to Telemachos, as I sat aboard the strong-benched vessel.”


Theoclymenus not only confirms Telemachus’ information, he adds that Odysseus is at that moment on the island itself. Furthermore, he uses language associated with prophecy and oath-taking to declare the truth of what he says. At the start of these strongly worded assertions that Odysseus is nearing the end of his long journey homeward, Theoclymenus addresses Penelope as the wife of the returning hero (17.152) rather than as the daughter of her father in the manner of the suitors. {99|100}

In fact, these two different full-verse vocatives reflect one of the important themes of the story: whether Penelope will return to her father’s house and marry one of the suitors or Odysseus will come home and reestablish her footing and his own in the social structure of Ithaca. Not only do these two verses present different views of Penelope herself. By using one or the other, individuals in the poem implicitly characterize themselves and their attitude toward the impasse about Penelope’s status. These two different regularly occurring full-verse vocatives dramatize an important conflict of the poem, whether she is to remain the wife of Odysseus or give him up for dead, resume her identity as the daughter of her father rather than the wife of her husband, and marry again. This central conflict is depicted partly through regularly occurring formulas and structures that characterize conversation, structures which follow principles of conversation analysis.

Penelope and Odysseus (i): Book 19

Odysseus’ first conversation with his wife is distinguished not only by the elaborate speech frames it contains at several key points, but also by its great length. In different ways, both the length and the quantity of elaborate speech frames draw out the tension Odysseus feels between openness with Penelope and circumspection towards her. It also depicts the emotions of Penelope, who feels a corresponding tension that is openly displayed to both Odysseus and the audience between believing what the stranger tells her about her absent husband and remaining skeptical. The similarity and yet the difference between the responses of husband and wife as they confront these tensions give this conversation its tone and its impact. The first section of the conversation is composed of eleven turns between the two of them, with an additional two turns involving Eurycleia (103-388), followed after Eurycleia bathes Odysseus’ feet by an additional five turns between Odysseus and Penelope (508-601).

While the four speeches of Penelope and Odysseus up to this point have all been introduced by common reply formulas, a highly developed and extremely effective multi-verse speech frame spans the interval between Odysseus’ speech here and Penelope’s reply (203-214). This elaborate passage could be replaced by the single verse τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα περίφρων Πηνελόπεια (circumspect {101|102} Penelope said to him in answer), which introduces all but two of her speeches to Odysseus in Book 19, without loss of narrative clarity. However, our passage is one of the most striking and effective in the Odyssey, and its presence here elevates the typical motif of “returning husband in disguise tests loyalty of wife” [25] to a deeply moving encounter. In this passage, a pair of separate similes describes Penelope’s emotion at hearing news of her long-absent husband and that husband’s (lack of) reaction to her tears. [26]

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·
τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς.
ὡς δὲ χιὼν κατατήκετο ἐν ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν,
ἥν δ’ Εὖρος κατέτηξεν, ἐπὴν Ζέφυρος καταχεύῃ·
τηκομένης δ’ ἄρα τῆς ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες·
ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης,
κλαιούσης ἑὸν ἄνδρα παρήμενον.
αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
θυμῷ μὲν γοόωσαν ἑὴν ἐλέαιρε γυναῖκα,
ὀφθαλμοὶ δ’ ὡς εἰ κέρα ἕστασαν ἠὲ σίδηρος
ἀτρέμας ἐν βλεφάροισι· δόλῳ δ’ ὅ γε δάκρυα κεῦθεν.
ἡ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν τάρφθη πολυδακρύτοιο γόοιο,
ἐξαῦτίς μιν ἔπεσσιν ἀμειβομένη προσέειπε·
“νῦν μὲν δή σευ, ξεῖνε, ὀΐω πειρήσεσθαι . . . ”

He knew how to say many false things that were like true sayings.
As she listened her tears ran and her body was melted,
as the snow melts along the high places of the mountains
when the West Wind has piled it there, but the South Wind melts it,
and as it melts the rivers run full flood. It was even
so that her beautiful cheeks were streaming tears, as Penelope
wept for her man, who was sitting there by her side. {102|103}
But Odysseus
in his heart had pity for his wife as she mourned him,
but his eyes stayed, as if they were made of horn or iron,
steady under his lids. He hid his tears and deceived her.
But when she had taken her fill of tearful lamentation,
then she answered him once again and spoke and addressed him:
“Now, my friend, I think I will give you a test . . . ”


While Penelope yields easily to the emotion she feels at the prospect of information about Odysseus, Odysseus—apparently without difficulty—masters the possible impulse to openness that his pity for Penelope might cause. His pity shows that he does feel some tug in the direction of openness with Penelope, but his calm behavior continues the deception that his words have begun. Both characters feel a desire for true information about Odysseus, but they respond in very different ways to that desire. Our passage depicts that difference, and makes it one of the things the conversation as a whole is about.

This passage describes the emotions of both Penelope and Odysseus using comparisons. Penelope’s chill loneliness melts in a flood of tears like winter snows on the mountains when spring winds blow (205-208); in contrast, Odysseus maintains his deception and his composure with rock-like steadiness even in the face of his wife’s grief (211-212). [28] The two {103|104} comparisons are separate: the disjunctive conjunction αὐτάρ (but, 209) begins the description of Odysseus’ immovability, marking a strong syntactical boundary between the two. In addition, the wife and the husband have very different emotions that are described with two distinct images. These two comparisons, in a sense, emphasize the division that exists at this point between the lonely, sorrowing queen and her disguised husband, who is sad also but conceals his grief. This gulf, however, contrasts movingly with the physical nearness of the two: Penelope weeps for ἑὸν ἄνδρα παρήμενον (her man, who was sitting there by her side, 209). [29] The similes describing their different emotions also sit side by side, as it were, echoing the narrative in describing two characters who are both alone and together in their sadness. Finally, after the very different reactions of the two are described, a couplet focusing on Penelope introduces her next speech (213-214). 213 is a full-verse formula that appears three time before speeches by Penelope, each time after she has had some kind of reminder of her absent husband, but the verse is only used after Odysseus himself has actually arrived in the palace. [30]

In the speech introduced by this affecting passage, which is the fifth turn in the conversation, Penelope tests the veracity of the stranger (ὀΐω πειρήσεσθαι [I think I will give you a test], 215) by asking him to describe “Odysseus’” clothing. Just as Penelope openly displays her grief, here she clearly identifies her question as a test. Of course Odysseus is able to pass (221-248). Once again, Penelope is overcome with emotion (249-252), described in a passage that could be replaced by a single-verse reply formula with no loss of narrative clarity. This passage forms an instructive pair with 19.203-214 above. The language in the two passages displays a number of similarities, but 19.249-252 includes no similes and no description of Odysseus’ feelings.

ὣς φάτο, τῇ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο,
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς.
ἡ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν τάρφθη πολυδακρύτοιο γόοιο,
καὶ τότε μιν μύθοισιν ἀμειβομένη προσέειπε· {104|105}

He spoke, and still more aroused in her the passion for weeping,
as she recognized the certain proofs Odysseus had given.
But when she had taken her pleasure of tearful lamentation,
then once again she spoke to him and gave him an answer:

Verse 251 is very similar to verse 213. In the earlier passage, two comparisons precede 19.213; syntactically and structurally speaking, verse 251 could also have followed a simile or similes. The similes greatly expand the moment at which Penelope first hears news of Odysseus from her husband himself, giving that event prominence and heightened poignancy. The second simile (211-212), in particular, draws Odysseus into the first scene, which increases its impact by including both husband and wife and also by portraying their very different reactions to the same event. The focus in 249-252, on the other hand, is only on Penelope.

In the second half of this part of the conversation, comprising five of the eleven turns, Penelope continues to disbelieve the stranger’s assertion that “Odysseus” will soon come home, and Odysseus reiterates his claims in the face of her doubt. Whenever he speaks, he uses the “wife of Odysseus” vocative (262, eighth turn; and 336, tenth turn). Toward the end, the conversation {105|106} turns to the necessity of bathing Odysseus’ feet. In Penelope’s last speech, she offers him the services of Eurycleia, remarking at the end of her speech that perhaps Odysseus’ feet resemble those of the stranger now before her (358-360). This has been interpreted by some scholars as a sign that Penelope sub- or unconsciously recognizes Odysseus. [32] I prefer the idea that the sudden evocation of the long-absent Odysseus through this conversation has aroused particularly vivid memories of and longing for him in his wife. She is therefore naturally inclined to think of him in connection with the stranger who has brought her news of him. In addition, she may have noticed at some level that the stranger addresses her as her own husband might have done, and not as the suitors do, strengthening any affinity she is inclined to see between the stranger and her husband. If she does recognize Odysseus, on the other hand, both the earlier focus on the strength of her desire for news of him and the eagerness of Odysseus to prevent Eurycleia from revealing his identity to her make no sense. Moreover, the quantity and quality of emphatic techniques that draw the audience’s attention to this reunion as it progresses through the last third of the poem fall to the ground if we are meant to imagine that Penelope actually recognizes Odysseus all the time.

Penelope and Eurycleia: Book 23

Now the story focuses for a while on other aspects of Odysseus’ situation, and Penelope and Odysseus interact with one another only occasionally in Books 20-22. For the most part, where both are present, one is speaking to the suitors and the other is listening. Once the suitors have been killed in Book 22, Odysseus sends Eurycleia to Penelope to tell her what has been happening, setting in train the fulfillment of the recognition and reunion of the two. The conversation between Eurycleia and Penelope, although not {107|108} as intensely gripping for the audience as the various conversations between Odysseus and Penelope, displays both unusual length (eight turns) and an elaborate speech frame at the point in the conversation when Penelope reacts to a report that Odysseus is present in the palace. This exchange also contributes to the audience’s anticipation of the actual reunion and recognition of Odysseus and Penelope by talking about it but at the same time postponing its occurrence. Hence, this conversation contributes to the overall program of elaboration and elongation that so strongly marks the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope.

At the beginning of Book 23, Eurycleia goes to the women’s quarters to tell her mistress that Odysseus has returned and has killed the suitors (5-9). Although the nurse is laughing, Penelope shows no emotion in response to this report. She immediately answers Eurycleia with skepticism and even abuses the old nurse for telling lies (11-24). After a second repetition, however, Penelope reacts strongly to the nurse’s report.

ὣς ἔφαθ’, ἡ δ’ ἐχάρη καὶ ἀπὸ λέκτροιο θοροῦσα
γρηῒ περιπλέχθη, βλεφάρων δ’ ἀπὸ δάκρυον ἧκε,
καί μιν φωνήσασ’ ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

So she spoke, and Penelope in her joy sprang up
from the bed, and embraced the old woman, her eyes streaming
tears, and she spoke to her and addressed her in winged words:


This speech frame is the only one in this conversation between Penelope and Eurycleia that is not the usual formulaic single verse reply introduction for Penelope. [36] Furthermore, it has a very high density of words that describe Penelope’s emotions. Even beyond the three underlined words, which indisputably refer to her feelings, ἀπὸ λέκτροιο θοροῦσα (sprang up from the bed) in 32 indirectly suggests the depth of her sensations before she asks the nurse to tell her more. This description of Penelope’s joyful reaction suggests that she believes the nurse, or that she wants to believe her, but her words in the speech itself are less wholehearted than her actions. {108|109}

εἰ δ’ ἄγε δή μοι, μαῖα φίλη, νημερτὲς ἐνίσπες,
εἰ ἐτεὸν δὴ οἶκον ἱκάνεται, ὡς ἀγορεύεις,
ὅππως δὴ μνηστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφῆκε
μοῦνος ἐών, οἱ δ’ αἰὲν ἀολλέες ἔνδον ἔμιμνον.

Come, dear nurse, and give me a true account of the matter,
whether he really has come back to his house, as you tell me,
to lay his hands on the shameless suitors, though he was only
one, and they were always lying in wait, in a body.


Although the description of Penelope immediately before this speech strongly suggests that she is full of joyful emotion, there is no word in the speech that conveys any emotion whatever. [
37] Penelope merely asks how the stranger, whom she does not name or call by any title, was able to defeat the suitors when they outnumbered him. This is an entirely reasonable question under the circumstances and one that might have been asked by any observer, regardless of their personal involvement in the situation.

In fact, the description of Penelope’s joyful behavior in contrast to the dispassionate, even skeptical answer she gives resembles closely what we saw in Book 13 for Odysseus when he first learns from Athena that he is on Ithaca. [38] Odysseus feels an inward joy that has neither an outward, non-verbal manifestation nor any role in the answering speech he makes to Athena; Penelope, while briefly displaying her emotions in her behavior toward Eurycleia, masters herself almost immediately and gives no indication of her feelings in the answer she gives to the nurse. If the same reply formula appeared at verse 32 as precedes all of Penelope’s other speeches to Eurycleia, there would be no sign of the strength and suddenness of her feelings when she hears that Odysseus is believed by the rest of his family to be within the palace. As it stands, this speech frame gives a brief glimpse of the strength of the feelings that Penelope subdues in order to approach the news of Odysseus’ return with what she deems the necessary caution. [39] It also likens her to her husband {109|110} through her ability to govern the tension she feels between a desire to believe what she hears and the need to be circumspect until the information can be verified. Moreover, this passage provides further evidence that the narrator wants the audience to notice Penelope’s emotions at moments when she is strongly moved by receiving news of her husband. This consistent strategy seems pointless if the narrator also means us to understand that Penelope actually has recognized Odysseus already.

Penelope and Odysseus (ii): Book 23

“ . . . γνωσόμεθ’ ἀλλήλων καὶ λώϊον· ἔστι γὰρ ἡμῖν
σήμαθ’, ἃ δὴ καὶ νῶϊ κεκρυμμένα ἴδμεν ἀπ’ ἄλλων.”
ὣς φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
αἶψα δὲ Τηλέμαχον ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

“ . . . [we shall find other ways,] and better,
to recognize each other, for we have signs that we know of
between the two of us only, but they are secret from others.”
So she spoke, and much-enduring noble Odysseus
smiled, and presently spoke in winged words to Telemachus:


The speech frames, in fact, parallel the progress of the episode. They focus our attention on each character alternately, and finally on both together at the point when they have recognized and accepted each other. This dramatizes the last moments of the enduring tension between frankness and concealment that both husband and wife have spent so much time and energy to control so that they can reach the moment when each feels able to be candid and let go of skepticism and concealments. Each of these expansions can be appreciated by itself, but as a group, they work together to contribute to the simultaneous slowing and crescendo effects which so effectively dramatize the end of the conflict between concealment and openness. Not only is the crescendo effect in this conversation more elaborate than in other conversations we have seen, but earlier conversations lead up to it in an elongated, extended crescendo effect that spans the last third of the poem. This crescendo itself emphasizes the strength that each has to have to manage this tension by emphasizing how long and how much the tension has affected them both.

After Odysseus’ bath, the process of testing that to some degree characterizes all the interactions between Penelope and Odysseus resumes. Odysseus, beautified by Athena as well as bathed by Eurycleia, sits down with Penelope (159-165). She, unlike Telemachus in Book 16, makes no response at all to the newly transformed man who has appeared before her. Here, for the first time in Book 23, Odysseus directly addresses Penelope, and like Telemachus did earlier, he criticizes her for remaining aloof from him when no other wife would do so (166-172). Apparently her Odyssean capacity for distrust is {112|113} amusing and praiseworthy when he is in disguise (and so is also practicing a kind of concealment), but annoying when he has resumed his usual appearance and is expecting her as well as himself to lay aside her skepticism. At the end of his speech, he asks for a bed to be laid for him.

Odysseus, as well as the audience, wants Penelope to be ready to accept him at the same time as he is ready to be accepted, but at no time does she show as clearly as she does here that she is a match for him in her capacity to master an impulse to be open in order to conceal or misrepresent herself. She replies (174-180) by directing Eurycleia to make up a bed for Odysseus outside his bedroom (178). The introduction to this remark is the normal reply formula for Penelope (173); only after the speech does the narrator explicitly state that her speech was a test.

“ἀλλ’ ἄγε οἱ στόρεσον πυκινὸν λέχος, Εὐρύκλεια,
ἐκτὸς ἐϋσταθέος θαλάμου, τόν ῥ’ αὐτὸς ἐποίει·
ἔνθα οἱ ἐκθεῖσαι πυκινὸν λέχος ἐμβάλετ’ εὐνήν,
κώεα καὶ χλαίνας καὶ ῥήγεα σιγαλόεντα.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη πόσιος πειρωμένη· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
ὀχθήσας ἄλοχον προσεφώνεε κέδνα ἰδυῖαν.
“ὦ γύναι, ἦ μάλα τοῦτο ἔπος θυμαλγὲς ἔειπες.”

“Come then, Eurykleia, and make up a firm bed for him
outside the well-fashioned bedchamber: that very bed that he himself
built. Put the firm bed here outside for him, and cover it
over with fleeces and blankets, and with shining coverlets.”
So she spoke to her husband, trying him out, but Odysseus
spoke in anger to his virtuous-minded lady:
“What you have said, dear lady, has hurt my heart deeply.”


The way the passage is constructed means that the impact of the speech falls belatedly on both the audience and Odysseus. The audience shares Odysseus’ surprise rather than being prepared for Penelope’s duplicity with a speech introduction that characterizes the speech as a test. [
46] Between these {113|114} two speeches, the verse *τὴν δὲ μέγ’ ὀχθήσας προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (resourceful Odysseus, greatly angered, addressed her) [47] would show that Odysseus was angry at what Penelope had said, but would omit the crucial information that she intended her speech as a test. It may also be the case that the epithet πολύμητις (resourceful), which would appear in a formula like the hypothetical “angry Odysseus replied” verse suggested above, would be out of place in a context where Odysseus is being successfully tested by the μῆτις of someone else. In sum, this couplet (181-182) describes the intentions of Penelope, the emotion of Odysseus, and the relationship that exists between them as this relationship is being re-established. The combination of these features effectively portrays Penelope’s skill in testing Odysseus at a moment when he thinks that his testing and concealment days are over, and his discomfiture at what she has done.

In the third turn of eight in their conversation, the angry Odysseus now proves his identity to Penelope by describing at length the process by which he built their bed. This story is structured with ring composition that repeats the central story: compare verse 184, τίς δέ μοι ἄλλοσε θῆκε λέχος (what man has put my bed in another place?) with verses 203-204 λέχος, ἦέ τις ἤδη / ἀνδρῶν ἄλλοσε θῆκε (whether some man has moved [my] bed elsewhere). At the end of his story, Odysseus says, οὕτω τοι τόδε σῆμα πιφαύσκομαι (I tell you this as a sign, [48] 202). This phrasing makes it unclear whether he means that the story or the bed is the σῆμα, and in fact makes such a distinction irrelevant and unnecessary. [49] Instead of a reply formula for Penelope’s next speech, several verses fall between Odysseus’ σῆμα and Penelope’s response to it.

ὣς φάτο, τῆς δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ,
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς·
δακρύσασα δ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰθὺς δράμεν, ἀμφὶ δὲ χεῖρας
δειρῇ βάλλ’ Ὀδυσῆϊ, κάρη δ’ ἔκυσ’ ἠδὲ προσηύδα·
“μή μοι, Ὀδυσσεῦ, σκύζευ . . . ” {114|115}

So he spoke, and her knees and the heart within her went slack
as she recognized the clear proofs that Odysseus had given;
but then she burst into tears and ran straight to him, throwing
her arms around the neck of Odysseus, and kissed his head, saying:
“Do not be angry with me, Odysseus . . . ”


The entire speech frame (205-208) between the third and fourth speech in the conversation is equivalent to τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα περίφρων Πηνελόπεια (circumspect Penelope said to him in answer) from the standpoint of narrative clarity, but the telling of the story would suffer significantly without this picture of the previously cautious and hesitant Penelope giving way to her joy with tears and kisses of welcome. Her happy reaction here corresponds to the anger of Odysseus after her speech about the bed. In her reply to the angry Odysseus (209-230), Penelope declares that she does recognize and accept him. However, she focuses primarily on her fears about what would have happened if she had let her guard down prematurely, not on her happiness that Odysseus has come home at last. She names him only once in the passage (209) and does not call him by any affectionate epithet or title. The speech itself, in other words, is not particularly overjoyed. So, the speech frame before Penelope’s speech describing her happy tears and embraces (205-208) is the primary vehicle for conveying her emotions at this point in the episode. Although kisses, tears, and embraces also characterized Odysseus’ reunion with Telemachus (16.191-192 and 214), [
50] this passage describes Penelope’s emotions and behavior at more length than in the earlier and less significant reunion. The motif of “loosening of knees” is associated elsewhere with erotic—or at least an emotional—response. [51] This response is fittingly evoked in the circumspect and thoughtful Penelope not by Odysseus’ newly {115|116} fine appearance, which at the start of this conversation aroused no apparent response from her (156-165), but by the recognition of σῆματα (206). [52]

Even though husband and wife have both accepted Odysseus’ identity, the idea of skepticism as an appropriate and necessary response to the uncertainties of life remains prominent. When Penelope tells Odysseus that she made up her story about their bed being moved in order to test him (209-224), she puts forward their mental affinity as the reason he should forgive her deception: τά περ ἄλλα μάλιστα / ἀνθρώπων πέπνυσο (beyond other men / you have the most understanding, 209-210). Indeed, the word πέπνυσο may also link him to their son Telemachus through his epithet πεπνυμένος. Penelope elaborates on deceptions that unwary people have fallen prey to, further justifying her wary response to Odysseus, and she concludes by verbally accepting the σῆμα he has given in his previous speech (225-230). Here Penelope’s behavior and her words finally act in concert to affirm the true identity of Odysseus as her husband. In this way, we can clearly see that she has accepted him in both word and deed.

A particularly striking—and long—passage occurs at the midpoint of the conversation, incorporating many elaborate details to form a dramatically effective whole. This is the most highly developed passage in the Homeric epics that is the functional equivalent to a single verse reply formula. Indeed, this moment of mutual recognition and acceptance between a husband and wife who have waited and striven so long to be reunited is, for many, the climax of the poem. For ease of reference in the quotation below, I have separated the passage into the different sections that I will be discussing.

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
235 ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
240δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ. {116|117}
καί νύ κ’ ὀδυρομένοισι φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
εἰ μὴ ἄρ’ ἄλλ’ ἐνόησε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη.
νύκτα μὲν ἐν περάτῃ δολιχὴν σχέθεν, Ἠῶ δ’ αὖτε
ῥύσατ’ ἐπ’ Ὠκεανῷ χρυσόθρονον, οὐδ’ ἔα ἵππους
245ζεύγνυσθ’ ὠκύποδας, φάος ἀνθρώποισι φέροντας,
Λάμπον καὶ Φαέθονθ’, οἵ τ’ Ἠῶ πῶλοι ἄγουσι.
καὶ τότ’ ἄρ’ ἣν ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
“ὦ γύναι . . . ”

She spoke, and still more roused in him the passion for weeping.
He wept as he held his lovely wife, whose thoughts were virtuous.
And as when the land appears welcome to men who are swimming,
after Poseidon has smashed their strong-built ships on the open
water, pounding it with the weight of wind and the heavy
seas, and only a few escape the gray water landward
by swimming, with a thick scurf of salt coated upon them,
and gladly they set foot on the shore, escaping the evil;
so welcome was her husband to her as she looked upon him,
and she could not let him go from the embrace of her white arms.
Now Dawn of the rosy fingers would have dawned on their weeping,
had not the gray-eyed goddess Athena planned it otherwise.
She held the long night back at the outward edge, she detained
Dawn of the golden throne by the Ocean, and would not let her
harness her fast-footed horses who bring the daylight to people:
Lampos and Phaethon, the Dawn’s horses, who carry her.
Then resourceful Odysseus spoke to his wife, saying,
“Dear wife . . . ”


This passage has a structure similar to the reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus in Book 16 (213-221), but most of the components are extended to even greater length and complexity than in that episode, as befits this more significant reunion. {117|118}

As we have seen, there are various forms of the dative that complete the formulaic speech conclusion ὣς φάτο [dative phrase, indirect object] ὑφ´ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο (so he spoke, and in [dative] stirred a passion for grieving). The particular verse ending in the formulaic half-verse ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο# (roused the passion for weeping) that is found at 231 is limited to two linked scenes in the Odyssey. In each of these, Odysseus and then Penelope arouse grief in each other towards the end of an episode in which emotion has been steadily building in intensity. [53] In both passages, an additional verse directly follows the ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο speech conclusion to describe how, or why, grief is expressed. In Book 19, the other place where we find ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο (s/he spoke, and still more roused in him/her the passion for weeping), the next verse describes Penelope’s response when she has just heard an accurate description of Odysseus’ clothes. Odysseus, the person grieving in this second passage, has just heard Penelope accept him as her long-lost husband.

ὣς φάτο, τῇ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο,
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς.

He spoke, and still more aroused in her the passion for weeping,
as she recognized the certain proofs Odysseus had given.


ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.

She spoke, and still more roused in him the passion for weeping.
He wept as he held his lovely wife, whose thoughts were virtuous.


With this repeated full-verse expression that means “desired to grieve,” the two instances of the expression are confined to one poem and to episodes with strong thematic connections. [
54] The reunion of Penelope and Odysseus is distinguished in the Homeric corpus for the way in which it builds consistently {118|119} over a long period. This “grieved even more” verse that appears at two key points during the reunion is consistent with the ongoing, almost laborious way these two characters make their way back to each other.

From the syntactical standpoint, verse 231 with its dative masculine pronoun τῷ (him) seems to focus only on Odysseus. Although Penelope is syntactically the object of a participle modifying Odysseus (ἔχων [holding], 232), her praiseworthy wifely attributes actually take up most of the space in this verse (ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν [lovely wife, whose thoughts were virtuous]). The syntax and structure of this couplet, which focuses on Odysseus’ response to what he has just heard, naturally creates the assumption that he is the subject of the long and celebrated simile of shipwrecked sailors that follows (233-238). The subject matter of the simile, the joy of sailors at finally returning to land after being shipwrecked by Poseidon, reinforces this idea.

ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

And as when the land appears welcome to men who are swimming ,
after Poseidon has smashed their strong-built ships on the open
water, pounding it with the weight of wind and the heavy
seas, and only a few escape the gray water landward
by swimming, with a thick scurf of salt coated upon them,
and gladly they set foot on the shore, escaping the evil;
so welcome was her husband to her as she looked upon him,
and she could not let him go from the embrace of her white arms.


This simile has an unusually involved relationship to its context, in terms of both its syntax and its subject matter. Although the verses immediately preceding it create the expectation that Odysseus is the person whose feelings are illustrated by this simile, at the end of the simile, we discover from the feminine pronoun τῇ (to her, 239) that the (syntactical) point of reference in {119|120} the narrative is not Odysseus at all, but Penelope. [55] Such a sudden and unexpected shift of viewpoint between the beginning and the end of a simile is unparalleled in the Homeric poems. While many similes have aroused debate on what the point of reference is in the narrative, there are no other similes that so explicitly have two points of reference, particularly two as intertwined as these are. [56] This surprising development focuses exceptional attention on the simile and its contexts; it tightly connects the husband and wife by making both of them points of comparison to the simile. The simile and its relationship to its context, in fact, mirror the final reunion of Odysseus and Penelope by joining the two together as referents of the same simile in a strikingly appropriate and unusual construction. [57] In the previous two expanded speech frames in the reunion scene, in contrast, the reaction of one partner at a time has been described. This unusual and effective portrayal of the emotions of both simultaneously emphasizes the actual moment of reunion, making it special and different both from identifications of Odysseus and Penelope elsewhere in the poem and from other reunions in the poem. [58]

The subject matter of the simile makes this identification even more moving. The many parallels between the situation of the sailors of the simile and that of Odysseus are obvious. At the Phaeacian court, Odysseus begins his tale of his own wanderings with Poseidon’s anger at the blinding of Polyphemus (cf. 23.234); the detail πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη (with a thick scurf of salt coated on them, 237) recalls the dirty and disheveled Odysseus arriving on Scheria at the end of Book 5; unlike the sailors of the simile, however, Odysseus is the only one of his companions to reach home safely. This extensive similarity between Odysseus and the subject of the simile, taken with the couplet preceding the simile, maximizes the surprise when the simile concludes with a reference to Penelope instead. {120|121}

Thus, this unusual relationship between simile and narrative reflects a complex web of conflicting feelings binding together husband and wife. Both are simultaneously the point of comparison to the same simile, which in one sense unites them at the point when their reunion is accomplished. At the same time, the simile and surrounding narrative point to underlying differences in their experiences: Odysseus, weeping, seems to be a man overwhelmed by grief, while Penelope is filled with joy. Similarly, although they are both compared to sailors wrecked by Poseidon, it is only Odysseus who has actually been shipwrecked. Penelope has had her own trials of perseverance and adversity in Ithaca, but her experiences and Odysseus during the twenty years of separation are distinct and will remain so.

A conditional construction follows the simile, but in contrast to the condition that appears in the reunion of Telemachus and his father (16.220-221) the expansion of a conditional speech introduction in our passage is further enlarged by several additional verses (243-246). [61] In fact, the actual speech introduction for the following speech does not appear until 247, {121|122} with καὶ τότ’ ἄρ’ ἣν ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then resourceful Odysseus spoke to his wife, saying). This verse could directly follow verse 240. Alternatively, a shorter and more regular conditional speech introduction of the form *καί νύ κ’ ὀδυρομένοισι φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς, / εἰ μὴ ἣν (or τὴν) ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (now Dawn of the rosy fingers would have dawned on their weeping / if resourceful Odysseus had not spoken to his wife, saying) could have appeared. Instead, an elongated condition reverses the usual pattern of such conditions: time would have continued to go by and dawn would have appeared, not if X had not spoken (as would be more usual), but if Athena had not held off the dawn! Here the emotions of the scene are so intense that they actually do break down normal temporal restrictions. The passage at 243-246 describing how Athena held back the night (243), kept Dawn at bay at the edge of Ocean (244), and prevented her horses from being hitched up (245-246) draws out the episode just as Athena draws out the night in order to allow the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus to run its course. [62] When Telemachus and Odysseus are reunited, their grief is so strong that it would have gone on till nightfall but does not; Odysseus and Penelope’s emotion, in contrast, actually does take precedence over the coming of day.

Considered as a whole, Odyssey 23.231-247 is the functional equivalent of the verse τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered her). Like other moments of reunion in the Odyssey, this one is drawn out by several different elements to create a moving and effective vignette that in the hands of a less able artist could simply have gone by with a single-verse reply formula. In this passage, a larger number of different elements—speech conclusion (231-232), simile (233-240), condition (241-246) and speech introduction (247)—are combined than in any similar passage elsewhere in the Homeric poems. Moreover, the simile and the condition in particular are especially long examples of phenomena that occur elsewhere as part of extended speech frames. All of these components, in fact, contain repeated patterns and language. This passage achieves its effects by means of length and the effective use of expressions known from other parts of the Homeric epics. A shorter and less evocative passage could have been created here in several ways: the narrator could have combined some but not all of these different {122|123} elements, or could have fashioned a shorter simile or condition in place of the especially long ones that we find in our passage. This unusually elaborate and dramatic vignette appears at the end of a particularly rich and vivid series of speech frames, a fitting end to the crescendo that in a sense has been building since Penelope first asked to see the mysterious storytelling beggar back in Book 17.

The conversation is only half over at this point. It continues for four more turns after this exciting moment for both the characters and the audience. All of the speeches—after the one by Odysseus that follows the unusually elaborate passage we have just been considering—are preceded by regular reply formulas. The overall dynamic of this conversation, in terms of both the speeches and the speech frames, is one of ever-increasing emotion and tension to which each succeeding speech frame makes an additional contribution. This emotion culminates at the halfway point of the conversation in a prolonged outburst of weeping for both Penelope and Odysseus. By describing this scene of grief and joy in such length and detail, the narrator makes it the heart of the conversation. Afterwards, the emotional tone of both the speeches and the speech frames drops markedly until the reunited pair goes to bed together, where they enjoy lovemaking and storytelling. Direct speech, however, does not return to the narrative until after they wake up the next morning, drawing a sort of narrative veil over the bed of Odysseus and Penelope.

Penelope and Neoanalysis

However, these questions fundamentally differ from the questions that neoanalysis so ably explores in the Iliad. Neoanalytical criticism of the Iliad has shown us how the poem skillfully makes use of other traditional stories about the fall of Troy and the heroes who fought there in order to broaden the scope of the story that the poem tells. Partly by using various stories and motifs that belong more naturally to different parts of the Trojan War, the Iliad becomes a story of the entire war even though it tells only about a few weeks near the end of the fighting. Neoanalysis reconciles the unity of the Iliad with its broad chronological and thematic reach.


The reunion between Penelope and Odysseus develops to a unique pitch of length, elaboration, and effectiveness the techniques of emphasis that we see operating in the one-on-one conversations discussed in Chapters 1, 3, and 4. This reunion involves traditional characters and a traditional story pattern; it is developed largely through the common type of one-on-one conversation; and it uses a full range of emphatic techniques consistent with the oral aesthetics described in the introduction. Conversations involving Penelope and Odysseus are unusually long. They contain single-verse formulaic variations (the vocative that Odysseus uses, as contrasted with the one that the suitors favor) as well as passages of elaboration that range from two verses to long passages containing several components (simile, condition, etc.) at key points. As in the other reunions in the Odyssey, the consistent theme of the many conversations between Penelope and Odysseus is the tension that both of them feel between being truthful and open with each other, and maintaining a skeptical distance in order to protect themselves. Elaborate speech frames consistently describe strong emotions that Penelope and Odysseus feel but do not act on or speak about, thereby dramatizing this conflict. Indeed, the placement and content of elaborations in the conversations between Penelope and Odysseus clearly show that the core of their interactions, and what primarily interests the narrator in this section of the poem, is the ongoing struggle between openness and concealment. It is not Penelope’s motives toward the suitors or her intention in setting the bow contest, neither of which receive any unusual elaboration. {126|}


[ back ] 1. Russo (in Russo et al. 1992:4-14) provides an excellent overview of the main issues for modern scholarship concerning the narrative construction of the reunion. de Jong 2001:458-460 surveys some of the same issues but in a more limited manner. Argument has centered on the length of the reunion (on which see Emlyn-Jones 1984), which some have seen as excessive and lacking in motivation; whether Penelope does, in fact, recognize Odysseus before Book 23; and what her motivation is for setting the bow contest.

[ back ] 2. Emlyn-Jones 1984 argues that there is a “reunion” type in the Odyssey that is not complete until Book 23, thereby disagreeing with critics who have suggested either 1) that the narrator’s technique in fashioning Penelope lacks finesse or traditionality or 2) that Penelope recognizes Odysseus before Book 23.

[ back ] 3. Byre 1988:162-163 argues persuasively that the idea that Penelope should show herself to the suitors belongs to Athena, not Penelope. He suggests that her laugh before she tells Eurynome of her intention to go among them (Odyssey 18.158-163) results from the fact that she is doing something she doesn’t understand or even desire to do.

[ back ] 4. Hölscher 1972, the most persuasive and influential treatment of this passage, argues that the much-debated phrase νόος δέ οἱ ἄλλα μενοίνα (while her own mind had other intentions) distinguishes between what Penelope says and “the feelings in her heart” rather than between her words and some secret plan (136). Odysseus, he goes on to say, is not worried about Penelope’s fidelity here or elsewhere because her speech clearly shows this distinction between what she says to the suitors and how she feels.

[ back ] 5. Eurymachus, Odyssey 16.435, 18.245, 21.321; Antinous, Odyssey 18.285.

[ back ] 6. Kahane 1994 briefly refers to this verse (98) in his chapter on the “heroic” properties of verse-final proper names in the vocative case. He sees the verse as a way of connecting Penelope and Odysseus: “the diction creates a very desirable reference and hence analogy. After all, Penelope is not just Odysseus’ formal spouse, she is also his counterpart in cunning, self-control, and perseverance.” Because Kahane focuses exclusively on vocatives where a nominative proper name appears at the end of the verse, he does not mention the other full-verse vocative for Penelope, which in my opinion makes a much closer connection between her and her husband (see below).

[ back ] 7. Conversation analysis has shown that speakers identify things they talk about in particular ways that depend on the interaction between the speaker, the thing they are talking about, and the context (Silverman 1998:14-17): “having multiple terms for one ‘object’ represents not just more ‘interest’ in that object but an attempt to enforce authority…In that sense, the categories we use in our descriptions are instruments of social control, and contested categories are one way that one does ‘rebellion’” (16-17).

[ back ] 8. Odyssey 19.165, 262, 336, 583; the appearance of this verse at 17.152 will be discussed below.

[ back ] 9. Cunliffe def. 2. I use Cunliffe rather than LSJ in this and the following notes because LSJ mixes Homeric and post-Homeric usage, whereas Cunliffe is confined to Homer.

[ back ] 10. Cunliffe def. 4b.

[ back ] 11. E.g. by Odysseus to Penelope at Odyssey 19.107, or (in quite different circumstances) by Antenor to Helen during the Teichoscopia (Iliad 3.204); Cunliffe def. 5. In fact, with the exception of Antenor’s address to Helen and Odysseus’ first approach to Nausicaa at Odyssey 6.149-185, γύνη in the vocative case is used only by a husband addressing his wife (6.168-169, where he is comparing Nausicaa to a goddess: ὡς σέ, γύναι, ἄγαμαί τε τέθηπά τε δείδιά τ’ αἰνῶς/γούνων ἅψασθαι…[so now, lady, I admire you and wonder and am terribly / afraid to clasp you by the knees]).

[ back ] 12. Discussing this verse from a different point of view, Austin 1975:48 makes the very interesting point that although most characters do not use the kind of name-epithet formulas that appear with such regularity in the narrative sections of the Homeric epics, Odysseus does use them: “only Odysseus shows any inclination to follow in the poet’s path; in his case all but one of his name-epithet formulas occur not when he is speaking about Odysseus, but when he is addressing Penelope as the wife of Odysseus, son of Laertes.”

[ back ] 13. Odyssey 16.435, 18.245, 18.285, 21.321.

[ back ] 14. Odyssey 1.329, 11.446, 19.375, and 20.388.

[ back ] 15. Odyssey 17.562 (by Odysseus, when he asks Eumaeus to tell Penelope that he will speak with her later on), 18.159, 21.2.

[ back ] 16. This verse appears five times: 17.152; 19.165, 262, 336, 583.

[ back ] 17. See de Jong 1987a:31-40 for an overview of narratological terminology, including “focalization,” in the context of Homeric studies. The glossary in de Jong 2001:xi-xix covers similar territory, but in a less full and accessible form.

[ back ] 18. On clustering, see Janko 1981.

[ back ] 19. Reece 1994, in fact, argues that Theoclymenus is a doublet for Odysseus, performing functions that would have belonged to Odysseus himself in alternative versions of the story.

[ back ] 20. Odyssey 19.106, 164, 220, 261, 335, 554, 582.

[ back ] 21. 382, 499. The exception, 19.479-481, is an expanded introduction containing a variety of context-specific information, which means that the usual single-verse reply formula is not semantically equivalent.

[ back ] 22. Of course, Odysseus conceals his identity throughout his first conversation with Penelope, while he reveals it to Telemachus in the course of Book 16.

[ back ] 23. Speech introductory verses to this point for Penelope: τοῖσι δὲ μύθων ἄρχε περίφρων Πηνελόπεια (their discourse was begun by circumspect Penelope, 103); τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα περίφρων Πηνελόπεια (circumspect Penelope said to him in answer, 123). For Odysseus: τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered her, 106 and 164).

[ back ] 24. This name is emphatically placed in the verse. “Odysseus” is the first word in its clause after the conjunction ἔνθα (ἔνθ’ Ὀδυσῆα ἐγὼν ἰδόμην καὶ ξείνια δῶκα [it was there I knew Odysseus and entertained him], 185). Note the hiatus entailed by the emphatic initial position of Odysseus’ name and its juxtaposition with the pronoun ἐγών; on this hiatus in Homer see Russo ad loc. in Russo et al. 1992.

[ back ] 25. On the themes in this part of the Odyssey, see e.g. Lord 1960:170-177. Foley 1999:125 has recently argued persuasively that doubtfulness about the wife’s fidelity is a normal motif in this story type in South Slavic epic.

[ back ] 26. This analysis overlaps to some extent with that of Russo in Russo et al. 1992:87-88. His appreciation of the Penelope simile is particularly good. Podlecki 1971:87-88 mentions this simile in the larger context of noting the “unusually large number of similes” in Book 19.

[ back ] 27. The resemblance between this verse and Hesiod Theogony 27 has been frequently commented upon. See e.g. West 1997 ad Theogony 27.

[ back ] 28. Erbse 1972:93 writes of this simile for Odysseus’ feelings, “Das ist das Meisterstück des Maskierten. Man spürt, welche Kraft der Selbstbeherrschung es erfordert” (This is the masterpiece of the disguise. One feels what power of self-mastery it requires).

[ back ] 29. Different commentators locate the pathos and irony of this vignette in different places. Russo in Russo et al. 1992 ad 209 notes the participle παρήμενον and its effective positioning after the third-foot caesura, while de Jong 2001:470 mentions both this participle and the possessive pronouns ἑόν (209) and ἑήν (210).

[ back ] 30. In addition to our passage, the verse appears later in Book 19 (see below on 19.251) and when Penelope brings out Odysseus’ bow for the trial of the suitors (21.57).

[ back ] 31. 19.250=23.206, on which see below; 24.346 is nearly identical but with a male instead of a female as the subject of the participle. Emlyn-Jones 1984:8 suggests the narrator creates irony here by frustrating the audience’s expectation that displaying signs in this way is associated with recognition.

[ back ] 32. In Felson-Rubin’s 1994 discussion, she rightly emphasizes that those who would argue for an early recognition will have great difficulty in explaining Odysseus’ eagerness that Eurycleia not reveal his identity at this point (59). The almost lyrical treatment in Austin 1975 of the leisurely progression of the reunion (223-233) argues strongly for a late recognition: “it is a mistake to concentrate on that second when recognition is crystallized rather than on the formation of that crystal” (224).

[ back ] 33. E.g. Penelope’s comparison of herself to the daughter of Pandareus, 19.518-524, and her dream of the geese with the gates of horn and ivory (560-569).

[ back ] 34. A rare voice that approves of Penelope’s behavior not merely as a plot device that furthers the story, but also as positively admirable from a moral and ethical standpoint, is Foley 1995.

[ back ] 35. For further discussion of these scholarly problems, see the end of this chapter (Penelope and Neoanalysis).

[ back ] 36. With alternation between the initial half-verses τὴν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα (80) and τὴν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε (10, 58). Both are translated “said in answer” by Lattimore.

[ back ] 37. With the dubious exception of hesitation, which is implied by her repeated use of εἰ-clauses in combination with adjectives meaning “true” (νημερτές, 35; ἐτεόν, 36) in the first part of the speech.

[ back ] 38. See Chapter 1, 55-58.

[ back ] 39. Danek 1998:442 suggests that Penelope’s refusal to believe the various reasons that Eurycleia gives her to accept that the beggar is Odysseus stems from her desire for some kind of emotional or psychological recognition of him (“einem inneren Anagnorismos”), which would be consistent with the poem’s consistent focus on Penelope’s emotions at moments when her husband and his homecoming are mentioned.

[ back ] 40. This view of the reunion as a unity has implications for our ideas about the composition and transmission of the poems. These will be discussed in the Conclusion.

[ back ] 41. Slightly adapted from Lattimore.

[ back ] 42. See above, 94-96.

[ back ] 43. This dynamic is noted by Schadewaldt 1966:15-17 as he examines the to-and-fro between the two throughout the part of Book 23 leading up to their mutual recognition and reunion.

[ back ] 44. This distinction in a conversation involving more than two participants between the person who is addressed and the person from whom some kind of response is expected is noted by Goffman 1981:9-10. This passage exploits that distinction in a particularly subtle and interesting way, in that the person directly addressed is not the person from whom a response is expected or to whom the speech is mainly directed.

[ back ] 45. Those who see interpolation here have generally placed it at 117-172 (e.g. Page 1955:114-115, asserting that this is an interpolation designed to prepare for the final scene in Book 24). Lesky 1968:807-808 and Erbse 1972:57-72 have been among the most enthusiastic and influential defenders of the passage.

[ back ] 46. Danek 1998:449 argues that this motif of the bed as a test is a new invention in our Odyssey, mainly because the passage provides all the information that the audience needs to understand it. If true, this would mean that the audience is indeed just as surprised and confused as Odysseus is, albeit for different reasons. For a speech by Penelope that she describes as a test at the beginning, cf. Odyssey 19.215-219. Note that this identified test fails to penetrate Odysseus’ disguise, whereas her second, unidentified test succeeds.

[ back ] 47. Although there is nothing apparently wrong with this verse, in fact the formula μέγ’ ὀχθήσας (greatly angered) is much more common in the Iliad, where it appears ten times (of which nine occur with either gods or Achilles), than in the Odyssey, where it is found only three times (4.30 and 4.332, both Menelaus, and 15.325 [Eumaeus]). See Scully 1984 on this expression in relation to Achilles in particular.

[ back ] 48. This is my translation; Lattimore renders “there is its character, as I tell you.”

[ back ] 49. Felson-Rubin 1994:38 suggests that the narrative is the σῆμα.

[ back ] 50. See Murnaghan 1987:22 on the physical actions that accompany reunions in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 51. Felson-Rubin 1994:62-63 argues for a specifically erotic connotation. Segal’s remarks on the same expression (1971:45) offer a wider variety of possible meanings for it. He characterizes its predominant significance in the Odyssey as “emotional or psychological” in contrast to the Iliad, where it often describes “simple physical reactions,” as of warriors on the battlefield. Sometimes we find both senses at once, as when Lycaon accepts his defeat at the hands of the berserk Achilles in Iliad 21 (on which see Chapter 4, 174-175).

[ back ] 52. Contrast the contexts for verse 206 here and for the same verse at 19.250. Here, Penelope sets up a test of which Odysseus is unaware, as a result of which she gets information that he gives without knowing what her real intention was. In Book 19, on the other hand, she explicitly identifies her request for information as a test and is given false information that misleads her about the true identity of Odysseus.

[ back ] 53. See Appendix IV for the various speech concluding verses that include this half-verse formula.

[ back ] 54. One thinks here of the two linked passages in the Iliad that contain the ancient formula λιποῦσ’ ἀνδρότητα καὶ ἥβην (see Chapter 4, 182 and 188).

[ back ] 55. There are no textual variants for 23.239 surrounding this change of subject.

[ back ] 56. Heubeck (in Russo et al. 1992) ad 233-239 cites several similes from the Odyssey that he suggests have “similar shifts of emphasis” (5.394-399, 10.415-421, and 16.17-21, on which last see Chapter 1). To my mind, although all of these have subtle and complex relationships to their contexts, none comes close to creating the kind of surprise reversal of the point of comparison that our passage so masterfully achieves. In Book 16, for example, there are many ways in which the simile of the returning son is more appropriate to Odysseus than to Eumaeus, but it is clear both before and after the comparison that the simile is describing Eumaeus and not Odysseus.

[ back ] 57. Compare the two separate similes for Odysseus and Penelope in Book 19 discussed above.

[ back ] 58. While Podlecki 1971:90 says that “most important of all, husband and wife are once more identified in a strikingly intimate way” [emphasis added], I suggest that the extremely close and unusually constructed identification between Odysseus and Penelope in this simile marks their reunion as being different from previous identifications of husband and wife.

[ back ] 59. The root ἀσπασ- (glad, welcome) also appears repeatedly in the simile that highlights Odysseus’ desire to set sail for Ithaca at the beginning of the second half of the poem (13.31-35).

[ back ] 60. Crotty reads the simile this way too: “Penelope’s story—less colorful, more private, and immersed in the domesticity that was the Greek woman’s lot—is nonetheless essentially the same as Odysseus’ own: a journeying through countless griefs to attain the beloved” (1994:202).

[ back ] 61. On conditions in Homeric poetry, see de Jong 1987a:68-80, Lang 1989 and Louden 1993.

[ back ] 62. This may also be a very indirect reference to Dawn as an erotic goddess, in light of the association between Dawn, eroticism, and horses posited by Boedeker 1974 (especially 74-75).

[ back ] 63. Clark 1986:379 states that neoanalytic scholarship is restricted to the Iliad, which in my opinion is not true, but the fact that he makes this statement is illuminating. Kullmann’s 1984 overview of neoanalysis does not mention the Odyssey. Katz 1991:13-15 notes the dearth of neoanalytic scholarship on the Odyssey.

[ back ] 64. Katz 1991:77-113 provides a thorough discussion of the scholarship that deals with—as Katz says—“what does Penelope want?” in Books 18 and 19 (77).

[ back ] 65. More so in the case of the Odyssey than of the Iliad, as Danek comments (1998:2n1).

[ back ] 66. Particularly the scene of the bath in Book 23 that appears between the first conversation of Penelope, Telemachus, and Odysseus, and the one-on-one conversation between husband and wife (see Erbse 1972:55-72).

[ back ] 67. Schadewaldt is a prominent and influential proponent of the idea that there are multiple authors at work our Odyssey (1966 passim), in spite of his unitarian views on the Iliad. Page 1955 is an important study in English with the same basic thesis.

[ back ] 68. Hölscher 1972:388.

[ back ] 69. As Jensen 1980, an oralist scholar, has rightly said, “they [the Iliad and Odyssey] are poems of the wrath of Achilles and the homecoming of Odysseus; at the same time they are poems of the whole war of Troy and all the homecomings of the heroes” (171, emphasis original).

[ back ] 70. To some extent, this also applies to the journey of Telemachus, one part of the Odyssey that has been studied extensively by neoanalyst critics (see recently Reece 1994 for an excellent study of Telemachus’ journeying that combines neoanalytical and oral perspectives).

[ back ] 71. See the remarks of Kullmann 1991 on this point (447-448). Kullmann here briefly mentions useful work that has been done on the way that Agamemnon and his family provide a foil for Odysseus and his family, but other homecomings mentioned in the Odyssey have not received the attention they should.

[ back ] 72. Danek 1998 is a welcome change from this general pattern: he explores in exhaustive and illuminating detail the alternative stories that can be deduced to lie behind every aspect of the Odyssey, without being prejudiced by the questions that Analysts happened to be asking about the poem.

[ back ] 73. Emlyn-Jones 1984 and Foley 1999:142-157.